Northwestern began March in style Wednesday, using a full-court pass, buzzer-beating lay-up to stun Michigan, 67-65, in Evanston.
Yes, with 1.7 seconds to go and the score tied at 65, Northwestern’s Nathan Taphorn heaved an inbound pass the length of the court to Dererk Pardon, who caught the ball cleanly, went up in traffic and scored a lay-in as time expired.
“It was kind of amazing the way that all happened, especially (after what happened last weekend),” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We had a game that we let slip out of our hands Saturday night at Indiana, where we had a seven-point lead with a minute-and-a-half to go and lost on a last-second three-point play from Thomas Bryant. So to come home and to have the pressure kind of on our guys that they’ve been feeling about stamping what we’ve done so far this year, we knew it was a big game. To have it come down to a final play and a long-ball pass that kind of works to perfection, you rarely see those plays work, quite honestly. There’s a lot of coaches that draw them up, but the reality is, the pass has to be perfect, you got to catch the ball in traffic, go up, lay it in – for all that to happen with the postseason ramifications on the line, what a special moment.”
With the win, Northwestern (21-9, 10-7) may have secured the first NCAA Tournament bid in program history. Interestingly, a Michigan timeout helped Northwestern set up and execute its final play.
“I think it helped us to get a little more time,” Collins said. “You try to have as much poise as you can, but a minute goes quick. A 30-second timeout, it goes quick. It was really something that we hadn’t run before. It was a new alignment, a new set. I thought them calling timeout did give us that extra full timeout to just re-explain and tell everybody again (what to do). And that being said, you still need some luck. I’m not saying it’s like this magical play. You need a lot right to happen, and fortunately for us, it did. But it did give us a little bit of extra time to calm everybody down, to explain what we wanted.”
Collins, to his credit, used leading scorer Bryant McIntosh as a decoy on the play.
“We knew there was going to be a lot of attention on Bryant McIntosh because we had run a similar-type play against Indiana on Saturday, and we threw it to McIntosh at half-court and he got off kind of a half-court shot on the run,” Collins said. “We kind of used him as a decoy. We wanted them to switch their big guy to him so that it would put (Michigan point guard) Derrick Walton on Pardon. We just wanted it to be a 50-50 ball – our big guy against their point guard – and we wanted to give him a chance to make a play.”
Walton, a senior, is listed as 6-1, 190, while Pardon, a sophomore, is listed as 6-8, 235.
Northwestern has another chance to bolster its resume this weekend. The Wildcats host No. 16 Purdue (24-6, 13-4) this Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.
“Hopefully we can keep it going,” Collins said. “We’ve had a lot of pressure on our backs for a couple of weeks. I’m hoping now we can just get back to playing and competing and not having that burden on our back of trying to cross that bridge and get to that tournament. I think if that’s the case, we have a chance to do some damage. I like our team. We’re a tough-minded bunch, and I think when we’re playing well, we’re pretty competitive with a lot of teams.”